Everybody knows what a controller is whether you play games or not. They are used to control things remotely such as your TV, garage door, camera, stereo, and other devices. Game controllers are almost a form of art because they must feel comfortable, be useful, and have a good amount of buttons, but most importantly is the button layout. There have been amazing controllers and terrible controllers that don’t make any sense. I want to talk about game controllers in the past, present, and what might hold in the future.
Controllers started out in arcade cabinets with joysticks and big buttons you bang on. Atari kind of copied this idea with the original Atari joystick.
It just had one red button, but it worked and was ergonomic at the time despite being shaped differently than those balled sticks you smacked around with two fingers. As time went on in the 80s other consoles came out with some wacky controller ideas like the Colecovision.
Not only were the games wacky with projector laminate screens you put on your TV that served as the levels for the weird bouncing ball you controlled with the turn dial, but it was also probably one of the worst designs of the 80s and not very useful. The console itself was stupid and pitiful, but a remote for a controller? Well…it did get brought back but more on that later.
Later on, the home console scene shot up like a rocket with the Nintendo Entertainment System, and not only did it revolutionize home consoles and set it in stone, but also helped tell the story of game controllers, so let’s say it was chapter 1.
It was pretty small in your hands and not much to look at. The rectangle design was a little uncomfortable, but it worked and was easy to understand. There were many third-party knock-offs that were total disasters, and some that were better, but the original design is still pretty iconic and has actually been turned into a million different things from candy dispensers, MP3 players, iPhone cases, and so on.
Of course, there were other controllers at the time (mainly for the NES) like the piece of crap Power Glove, yeah remember that? While I wasn’t even born yet when it came out I do remember people carrying on about how much of a dump the thing was. With two huge RF receivers that fell off your TV unless they were duct-taped on, only a few games to support it, and just overall bad design, the Power Glove was one of the worst controller failures in history even with movie stars backing it.
Nintendo MAX Controller
NES Advantage Fight Pad
Later on when the SNES and Genesis were released and the controllers took the next step. Nintendo advanced the controllers with 4 more buttons (X, Y, and two shoulder buttons), but Sega stuck with the basics with just three buttons. The SNES controller was great, but still too small, and the Genesis controller was bigger, but having three buttons in a row wasn’t exactly ergonomic because that C button was always hard to get to. There were problems with people with smaller hands having to shift them to hit it.
Sega Genesis Controller
The SNES and Genesis both saw a lot of knock-off controllers, but Sega released a controller later that had six buttons trying to outdo Nintendo’s four face buttons. This made the controller even less accessible, but third-party companies tried to remedy this. This was also the era for turbo buttons which would rapidly repeat a button for certain games and were probably some of the first game “hacks”.
DOCS Wireless SNES Controller
ASCIIWare Turbo SNES Controller
Genesis 6 Button Controller
Genesis Arcade Power Stick
When the 32-bit era started coming around there were some other controllers for the Sega Saturn, CD-i, Jaguar, and other wacky consoles and neither could hit the sweet spot or beat the SNES as favorite controller of the time. Not only was the Jaguar a piece of crap and the most expensive console ever made at $800 at launch, but it incorporated those stupid number pad buttons that no one cares about. The controller was huge and bulky and felt like a box more than a controller. Sega was smart and stuck with the Genesis 6 button design for the Saturn and the CD-i was a disaster for the decade with another remote as a controller.
Phillips CD-i Remote
Sad Attempt to reinvent the remote
Sega Saturn Controller
While this was the “experimental” period for consoles for random electronic companies like Phillips, Panasonic, and others, Nintendo and Sega still carried the banner for the core home console market. Later on, the 3DO was released to disastrous acclaim and just copied the Genesis controller.
Panasonic 3DO Controller
When the next generation of consoles came along it was really just the big dog Nintendo and a new contender: Sony. The PlayStation controller was considered the new reigning champion and finally hit the perfect note that every controller today copies. The Nintendo 64 had an interesting controller with three handles because of the joystick. Games now needed a joystick to move in 3D environments because the D-pad was no longer useful for primary movement. Both controllers were great despite the N64 controller being a monster.
Nintendo 64 Controller
The original PS1 controller didn’t have any analog sticks and this was a big whoopsie on Sony’s part because games controlled like crap without it. Quickly they launched the analog controller and were the first with two sticks. While most games didn’t use the second stick until the next generation it was inventive and revolutionary because every controller now has two sticks. Later on, Sony also was the first to incorporate vibration inside the controller with their DualShock line, while Nintendo had packs you inserted in the controller along with memory cards which made the controller even bulkier and heavier.
PS1 DualShock Controller
Later on, the next generation was coming along and Sega jumped in with the Dreamcast while Sony made the most successful console of all time: The PlayStation 2. A third contender joined the party being Microsoft with the Xbox, and Nintendo created the failed GameCube with probably the worst controller in recent memory. The Dreamcast controller was terrible being huge and bulky with an LCD screen that tried to be inventive and let you interact with games that put up stats and also interacted with the memory card.
Sega DreamCast Controller
The PS2 was the best with the DualShock 2 because the button layout was perfect, the size, weight, and the dual analog sticks seemed to be in Sony’s favor, plus vibration helped add another dimension to gaming. It is also the most recognized controller to date; even more so than the NES controller. The Dreamcast was a complete failure, but was loved by many fans and is still one of the most sought-after systems to date.
PS2 DualShock 2 Controller
The Xbox and GameCube controllers were a complete disaster with the Xbox being a huge gigantic mess and almost too big to wield, while the GameCube had buttons randomly laid out and those weird parts that stuck out at the bottom. The shoulders buttons were huge and inlaid way too much and the Z button was randomly placed as one-second shoulder button. What these guys were thinking was beyond me, but not only were both consoles failures the controllers didn’t help much either.
Microsoft Xbox Controller
Nintendo GameCube Controller
Now we get to today’s consoles with the Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii. The Xbox 360 reinvented not only the Xbox controller, but controllers period and is the best controller ever made in history. Even better than the PS2 controller. The design is perfect, the analog sticks are placed just right, and the black and white buttons are now bumpers with nicely placed triggers that have just enough tightness to feel useful. The PS3 controller is almost exactly like the PS2 but adds a useless SixAxis motion control function, but also makes the R2 and L2 buttons triggers, but doesn’t work as well as the Xbox ones. They don’t sit right and your fingers slip off of them, plus they are too big.
Xbox 360 S Controller
The Wii controller went back to the hated remote design but didn’t use numbers. While the thing is still unwieldy with the remote being too long leaving you to shift your hand to use the D-pad, it has an attached Nunchuk analog stick which looks pretty weird. The controller isn’t as responsive or intuitive as people thought since Nintendo is using ancient IR technology that requires canned movements pre-programmed rather than true 1:1 motion capture like the PlayStation Move.
So what will future controllers hold? Will they have zillions of buttons or continue the motion control craze with Wii, Xbox Kinect, or PlayStation Move? Will controllers have no buttons at all that you hold in your hand? Will we be able to control games with our minds and thoughts through probes and sensors? Will gaming eventually become a virtual reality where we are in the game itself kind of like Tron? We may never know, but with the continuation of handhelds and advanced technology, we will wait and see…….